"What is he?" murmurs
one grey shadow of my forefathers to the other. "A writer
of story books! What kind of business in life—what mode of
glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation—may
that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!"
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
It is not the being paid money in
advance that jars the sensitive artist: it is the having to work.
—P.G. Wodehouse, "Best Seller"
Being a real writer means being able
to do the work on a bad day.
When the cartoonist is trying to talk
honestly and seriously about life, then I believe he has a responsibility
to think beyond satisfying the market's every whim and desire.
I have always subscribed to Kurt Vonnegut's
famous canary-in-the-coal-mine theory of a writer's sensibilities
and contribution to social justice. As you know, he thinks that
writers and poets are more sensitive to invisible noxious gases
in a culture or era than the average joe and—like the canaries
the miners use to hold ahead of them in a cage on a 9-foot-pole—will
keel over and go belly-up at the slightest whiff of injustice. ...
To that end, perhaps we writers do have a certain healthy role in
any society at any given time—i.e. sniffing, chirping wildly,
and dying before the important people do.
Having your book
turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon
It is not the critic who counts, not
the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the
doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to
the man who is actually in the arena; ... who, at the best, knows
in the end the triumph of high achievement and at the worst, if
he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place
shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither
victory nor defeat.
Any reviewer who expresses rage and
loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person
who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.
"Look, Msabu," he said,
"this is a good book. It hangs together from the one end to
the other. Even if you hold it up and shake it strongly, it does
not come to pieces. The man who has written it is very clever. But
what you write," he went on, both with scorn and a sort of
friendly compassion, "is some here and some there. When the
people forget to close the door it blows about, even down on the
floor and you are angry. It will not be a good book."
—Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
And let me say this about editors
in general: Not having a good one is like doing brain surgery with
a butter knife—you can do it, but you're always paranoid
the other surgeons are rolling their eyes when you're not
looking. What a relief to have someone standing next to you hand
you a sharp scalpel and just say, "Cut that thing, Gary! Right
there! Cut it, damn you!"
—Gary Larson, The Complete Far Side
I really don't want to be boring,
and so many books are so boring!
—Nick Hornby (on being a "middle-brow" author)
On the whole, audiences prefer that
art be not a mirror held up to life, but a Disneyland of the soul,
containing Romanceland, Spyland, Pornoland and all the other escapelands
which are so much more agreeable than the complex truth.
A long time ago Francis Bacon said
that "Knowledge is Power". Not quite as long ago PT
Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute."
At least with Barnum, you got to see a circus.
—Ron Pramschufer (on the dangers of signing vanity press contracts)
Fear your admirers!
There is a difference between writing
and being an author. Authors talk. I'm standing here talking
now. This has nothing to do with writing.
We have carried editing to a very
high degree of fussiness here, probably to a point approaching the
ultimate. I don't know how to get it under control.
Children's authors generally
write in one of two ways, either to please children or to please
themselves. The more numerous of them, those who write to please
children, have traditionally been the purveyors of ephemera and
dreck; those who write to please themselves have given us most of
the best children's books we have. ...
Somewhere between Little Rock and
Newtonville you'll get tired of your book tour, and eventually
the money will run out, and after a few years you'll forget
all the readings and all the interviews and all the reviews. But
you will remember the day you finally figured out how to open that
chapter you wrestled with for half a year, that time when the words
just came, and you'll remember what time it was and how high
the sun was in the window and how the floor was cold on your bare
feet. You'll one day realize that you miss writing that book,
and that you'll never get to write it again.
Sic transit gloria midlist.